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I'm a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. I'm currently based in the Race and Ethnicity in the Global South Research Collaboration.

My research interests include histories of youth, gender, welfare, education and disability. I have a keen interest in digital history and all things web.

My dissertation is titled "Help Us/Help Them: How Australian parents understood the problem of mental retardation, and what they did about it, 1945-1970."

Reflecting on Achilles and the Black Dog

September 9, 2011

Decorative element

Yesterday I went to Driving the Future of History and Philosophy, and saw Dr. Larissa Aldridge’s amazing keynote address, “Achilles and the Black Dog: Coping with Feelings of Inadequacy during the PhD Process.”[1] People familiar with psychology will have guessed that Larissa’s title references the “black dog” metaphor for depression, and Harold Bloomfield’s Achilles Syndrome, a (pseudo?) psychological book published in 1985 which popularised the concept of pseudocompetence, more commonly referred to as “Impostor Syndrome.”[2]

In her address, Larissa shared the battles with self-doubt and depression that she fought during her PhD journey. It was a touching, and also brave, talk, because I believe that most, if not all, graduate students, and academics, frequently exhibit depression-like symptoms and self-doubt. But we are encouraged (socialised, perhaps?) not to discuss it. Instead, we have rooms full of graduate students sitting at their desks, tapping away, all worried that the person next to them is achieving more than they are. We have conferences full of historians who have a book a year overdue, a half-finished peer-reviewed article they hate, a course outline barely started but due to be finished tomorrow, and a huge grant application to complete, trying their best to project an air of calmness and self control. Read more…

Eat History!

September 1, 2011

Image of Eat History Poster for History Week 2011History Week  is almost here! Mark Dunn and the team at the NSW History Council have done a marvellous job teeing up a whole suite of interesting and exciting events. This year’s theme, Eat History, is rather topical, and all the buzz has even encouraged my old friend Harriet Wicken to join Facebook. Who would have thought?

It’s great to see interest in history being generated. The City of Sydney, Sydney University, State Records NSW, Tony Bilson (!) , and a whole host of other people and organisations have stepped in to create what is certainly going to be the biggest history week so far. Read more…

The Humanities PhD at Sydney

August 12, 2011

Paper presented to Gateway: the PhD and its Future, St. Paul’s College, Sydney University, Monday the 8th of August. 

"Gateway: The PhD and its Future" PosterThe past few years have been a time in which the university, and the higher education sector more broadly, has been reflecting very deeply on the role of the PhD in today’s society. We’ve had a working party review the PhD process, we’ve had the University White and Green Papers, we’ve seen the Bradley Review, and the reports of parliamentary standing committees into Research Training in Australia (Bradley et al. 2008; Standing Committee on Industry 2008; Sydney University PhD Review Working Party 2009; The University of Sydney 2010, 2011).

Today I’d like to think in a more practical manner about what the university could do to re-enforce what I believe to already be an outstanding humanities research environment. I’ll apologize now for what might come across as talk which promotes the impression that PhD candidates have a boring predilection for practical and financial matters. I get the impression that Alan was hoping for a more abstract discussion of lofty ideals. However, at the end of the day, practical and financial matters are the foundations upon which we learn. Without money, and without a place to work, it’s hard to put our minds towards the kind of higher learning, and higher thinking, that our University demands. The most brilliant candidate cannot complete a thesis if there’s no food on their table, or worse, they’ve no table to put the theoretical food upon.

Read more…

Conference Abstract: Eugenics, rural cultures, and conceptions of intellectual disabilities

July 29, 2011

Decorative Bar

It’s a touch late, I know, but I should include the abstract to the paper I recently gave at the recent AHA History at the Edge conference in Launceston.

“Our Tasmanian Secretary laments that some teachers in that State… think all their pupils feeble-minded”:[1] Eugenics, rural culture and conceptions of intellectual disability in Australia, 1911 – 1928

In 1911, delegates to the Australasian Medical Congress gathered in a smoke-filled theatre and unanimously agreed that “the feeble-minded” posed a grave threat to the Australian nation. The first stage in their plan to solve the problem was the implantation of a nation-wide into the prevalence of feeble-mindedness amongst school children. As Ross Jones has recently argued, these surveys were an abysmal failure: a national survey was not completed until 1928, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Department of Health.[2]

In this paper I examine these early attempts to survey the feeble-minded population in Australia. Using insights from disability studies and whiteness studies, as conceived by Matt Wray, I argue that schoolteachers’ diagnosis of feeble-mindedness were often informed by class and cultural considerations.[3]

Read more…

Conference Abstract: ‘The Association for Aiding Educable Sub-Normal Children Only.’

July 29, 2011

Decorative bar showing the faces of retarded children at Brush Farm, Sydney

Today I submitted an abstract to the upcoming Australasian Welfare History Workshop, which is being held at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, later in the year. I’m quite excited about this conference, the last one was fantastic, and I am confident that this will be quite a good paper, too. If you’re interested in reading more about Mary Barton, check out my earlier post on her. Hopefully I’ll write the second half over the next few weeks.

‘The Association for Aiding Educable Sub-Normal Children Only:’ Communities, power, and categories of disability in Australian voluntary organisations for disabled children, 1950 – 1965

Read more…

Race and Disability History: Casual Paper

April 16, 2011

Decorative element

This is a short paper I gave to Sydney University’s Australian History Postgraduate Group on the 28th of March. I was asked to suggest a reading relating to “Race and the ‘Other'” and comment on its relevance to my own work.

The article I submitted for reading was Laura Tabili’s “Race is a Relationship and Not A Thing.”[1]

It’s one of my favourite articles, but it wasn’t until I recently re-read it that I really remembered why.

As you probably know, I work in the field of disability history.

And Laura’s insistence that “racial processes” are “contingent, protean and relational in nature… [like] all historical processes” allows us to think about race in history in very interesting ways, ways which are sometimes overlooked by historians of race in the Australian context.[2]

It also allows ideas of race to intersect neatly with the kind of thinking that I do, in terms of the history of disabilities.

Read more…

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